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Audio Note Io Cartridge Review

audio note io

Introduction to the Io
Audio note only make one range of moving coil (MC) cartridges, the “Io” and this is the entry level unit. They are unusual cartridges in that they only output 0.05mV which is tiny compared to most MC’s. This adds a slight issue in that you will need a step-up transformer as well as your phono stage to get the low output signal to the right level.
Audio Note make a wide range of Step Up Transformers (SUT’s), which start at the “affordable” (in hifi terms) up to the eyewatering (price of a small family car!) Of course, others make SUTs, but wherever you buy, the price it is something you have to factor in when considering an Io. However, once “stepped up” the signal from the SUT plugs straight in to the MM section of a phono stage, cutting out the usually cheap step ups or high amplification used in many MC phono stages.

audio note io

How does it perform?
I installed the Io on my SME-V arm, in tirn mounted on a Garrard 401. Tracking was excellent, it was able to track everything except the last track of the hi-fi news test record. The setup is the same as any other cartridge, except VTA is set by looking at the diamond sitting in a groove. I have been told by some owners that the diamond should be absolutely vertical in the groove to get the best sound, tracking force I found sounded best at 2.1g but it can be set between 1.5 and 3.5g so lots of room to play.

Haviong now played 90-100 records through the Io, I have had no problems even with some pretty warped records, which is what you would expect from a cartridge of this price.  I also found surface noise to be very low which has helped improve some of my older more worn records.

This is where it gets interesting, from the first record this cartridge sounded excellent. I haven’t found a single record that didn’t work or sounded bad with the Io. In the past I have had cartridges that favor some music and not others, but the Io is not fussy at all. I found this effect most surprising with compressed modern poor recordings which the Io managed to get real dynamics back on the record allowing you to listen to the music instead of thinking about how bad it sounds.

From the ability to handle compressed music you get amazing dynamics which brings rock and classical music to life which real high and lows in the dynamics and real rhythm to tracks.

Across the whole frequency range the Io seems to excel, bass is tight but not too tight, the mids and highs are lush and could melt the coldest heart. This is most obvious with vocals which are portrayed with remarkable realism.

Another real benefit of the cartridge seemed to be how evenly it handled different instruments and sounds. For eample, some cartridges may emphasis high notes, which would make some instruments seem more forward compared to the others. The Io seems to always have sounds at the correct level so instruments seem right and background noise seems to always be at the right level too, nothing sticks out yet nothing disappears to the background too much.

Detail is something that this cartridge does not miss out on either, it gets all the detail that is on the record but lays it out in its nice even manner so it isn’t in your face.

So this is a cartridge that portrays all genres of music well from electronic to classical, it doesn’t miss a trick and  allows you to just sit back and relax to the music. Since listening to this cartridge I have probably doubled the number of LP’s I have listened to in a month. This can only be a good thing, and unlike some equipment it doesn’t limit the choice of music genre, they all work. It should too when you consider the cost of the cartridge and an Audio Note S2 step up (a good entry point) is more than £3000. But if you have lots of records I feel it is worth it, especially as it has one of lowest re-build costs of the high end MC’s.

This is the real deal and the best Cartridge I have heard to date.

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About Dominic Chapman

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